Put away the fruitcake, and opt for a treat from Paul's Pastry Shop.


Tell the folks in Picayune, Mississippi, that king cakes are strictly for Mardi Gras, and they're liable to shake their heads in pity for those of us who don't know any better. For them, any day is a good day to serve this pastry. Touted as "the biggest little bakery in South Mississippi," Paul's Pastry Shop brings this holiday treat to the Big Easy and beyond.

Since the early 1970s, the Paul family has made cakes by hand with all-natural ingredients using an old family recipe. (Currently running the cake kingdom is Sherri Paul-Thigpen, daughter of founders Harry and Shirley Paul.) The shop is on State 43 North in Picayune, about 45 minutes from New Orleans. You'll know you're close when you smell the sweet scent of baking breads and cakes.

Unlike larger bakeries in New Orleans, this Mississippi mom-and-pop store is where the filled king cake originated. Customers may choose from an assortment of more than 40 flavorful fillings, including Hawaiian Delight, Mississippi Mud, and Berry Deluxe. Yet it's their original cream cheese king cake that has made them a success. Prices range from $25.95 for a medium-size traditional cake to $39.95 for a large filled cake. Paul's ships their cakes all over the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska. As many as 2,500 a week go out to customers. Put a Paul's king cake on your holiday wish list--you'll be glad you did.

Paul's Pastry Shop: 3247 State 43 North, Picayune, MS 39466; 1-800-669-5180 or www.paulspastry.com.